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5 stars Renaissance has a surprisingly rich treasure trove of live recordings, especially so for a second tier band. Are there some superfluous releases in this humongous catalogue of concert performances? Perhaps, but Live At the Union Chapel is surely not one of them. What follows is a review of the DVD and not the audio only CD.

What makes this DVD special is, aside from all other things, it is one of only two colour DVDs of Renaissance mk ii and the third yet overall. The only DVD representing the 70s classic line up - you know which one - is Song of Scheherazade and that much maligned black and white release is no competition. The main competition then is with the Turn of the Cards/Scheherazade and other Stories DVD from 2011. Yeppers, if you didn't know about that one and don't have it yet in your collection, you should because it has both albums performed in their entirety with a little bonus.

On the face of it then, this DVD, taken from their concert at aforesaid venue in London, is up against the odds when compared with Cards/Scheherazade. But, leaving aside this obvious disadvantage, Renaissance score over the 2011 DVD on two counts. One, the video footage is much better shot here (though I'll leave providing the technical justification for that comment to somebody else!) and the audio too is stunning. The audio is available in two modes - stereo and surround sound. The surround sound set up is incredible. Listening to Annie Haslam's voice on surround can almost lull you into believing it's the 70s. Two, the concert features three tracks from Grandine Il Vento/Symphony of Light. That would perhaps be regarded as a problem by some but, as somebody who is no great fan of that album, I must say these three tracks really come alive in the concert setting. I had already enjoyed Mystic and the Muse on the 2011 DVD and now enjoy Symphony of Light as well as Grandine Il Vento a lot more on the DVD compared to the studio versions. The energy and emotion that was perhaps a touch subdued in the studio recordings really flows in the concert performances and makes them a lot more engaging.

I have minor quibbles here and there of the band's playing (like the way Mark Lambert performs the opening guitar riff of Northern Lights...just compare it to the way Dunford played it and you'll see my point) but overall they are splendid. Annie Haslam continues to amaze, as ever. It's not that her instrument is completely untouched by the demands of touring for so many years and a purely vocal acrobatics-oriented track like Prologue spotlights what's changed. But on the other tracks (which have lyrics) her phrasing seems to have gotten even better as compared in 2011 (which was already - dare I say it - better than the 70s). As I mentioned earlier, the surround sound set up adds that little bit of 'beef' to her voice which was missing in the 2011 recording, closing the gap even more on the 70s. These are nitpicky considerations of a long time fan (or not so long time by Ren fan standards!); suffice it to say that those who are less demanding will have nary a complaint of any hue to make.

Time for the rating, then. From a Renaissance fan perspective, this is five star material. I am not comparing this with DVDs of other bands and wouldn't advise a casual listener (of Renaissance) to start here. But if you already like this band, then this is a must have for sure.

Report this review (#1535917)
Posted Saturday, March 5, 2016 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars Still burning

Renaissance was never among my favourite groups, being a bit too meek and lacking in Rock substance for my tastes. They are somewhat more meaty in the live setting however, compared to the studio. This fact together with keyboarder Tom Brislin's involvement was what drew me to check out Live at the Union Chapel. I previously knew Brislin from the Symphonic Yes DVD, as well as Camel's The Opening Farewell DVD. And having played with both Yes and Camel - two of my all-time favorite bands - I was curious to hear what Brislin could do for Renaissance. I was not disappointed, Brislin plays very well indeed, sharing keyboard duties here with Rave Tesar. The latter concentrates mainly on piano, leaving Brislin to focus more on synths; he even throws in a rousing solo in Ashes Are Burning.

The rest of the band consist of Mark Lambert on acoustic guitar, Leo Traversa on bass guitar, Frank Pagano on drums, and of course Annie Haslam on vocals. Despite the fact that Haslam herself is the only member with a long history with the band, they do a very good job to reproduce the classic songs in this intimate live setting. Personally, I like best the opening instrumental Prologue, the epic Symphony of Light, and Ashes are Burning.

A high quality performance, and one of the best I've heard from Renaissance

Report this review (#1920372)
Posted Tuesday, May 8, 2018 | Review Permalink
Prog-Folk Team
4 stars Any story about RENAISSANCE runs the risk of violating basic rules about brevity and clarity, as their history is even hazier than the decade of their vintage. But let me try. After a lengthy period of silence that followed a period of sub-par sub Renaissance activities by both principal parties, vocalist Annie Haslam and guitarist Michael Dunford united in 2009 around the dream of returning to their roots, meaning the romanticism and ambition of the 1972-1978 period for which the group is justly renowned. Since Renaissance was always as much a live act as a studio venture, part of that dream was to return to the UK (Annie has lived in US for many years) to perform for the first time in decades. While they did manage to produce an album together with a very able backing band, Dunford passed away from a sudden illness in 2012, and the band didn't make it to the UK until some time after, with the DVD in question originating from an April 2015 concert at the Union Chapel. OK now that wasn't so bad.

First of all the scene is splendorous, almost like a high budget Broadway set but absolutely real. The stage is backed by such magnificence that it almost gives the impression of open air, which is highly unlikely in the UK in April! As to the band, none being members during the group's time in the spotlight, they nonetheless do the legacy proud. Rave Tesar plays the parts that had belonged to John Tout, mostly piano, always a signature of the group's sound, while Tom Brislin operates the rest of the keyboards, mostly fitted to approximate the orchestra. Acoustic guitarist Mark Lambert is as critical for his vocal counterpoints to Annie as he is to propelling the classic amp-less arrangements. Frank Pagano and Leo Traversa buttress the rock aspect of the group, and perhaps what is missing most is Jon Camp's chunky bass as far as I can tell.

No Renaissance story would be worth telling if it didn't also jump forwards as well, and at the time of writing they have since performed with a chamber orchestra on several tours in the US Northeast and released one DVD of the first tour, with a high def DVD of a subsequent tour in the can and imminent. I say this because, as enjoyable as is "Live at the Union Chapel", the group improves upon the setlist for the orchestral tours. Annie and company seem to genuinely enjoy varying the material, and, knowing now how magical it was to hear "Island" from the Mach 1 period, and the long forgotten gem "Kalynda", "Trip to the Fair" and epics from "Song for all Seasons" with orchestra in 2017 and 2019, makes me feel something is missing here, fair or not.

Of course we are still treated to wonderful versions of standbys like "Prologue", "Carpet of the Sun", "Mother Russia" and the absolute live classic "Ashes are Burning", where the twin keyboardists in particular cut loose. Just watching Tesar's with his studious perfectionism contrasted with Brislin's relatively wild eyed visual and sonic expressions makes my lips curl no matter how many times I see and hear it. Because "Northern Lights" was a hit in the UK, they perform it here and it's enjoyable but diminished somewhat by the guitar parts that, as inferred by rogerthat, probably would have been better served by mimicking Dunford's approach more closely. While the 3 tracks from the reunion album fit in just fine, "Grandine il Vento" and "Mystic and the Muse" especially, they suffer, through no fault of their own, from their placid sedimentary origins rather than the forged magma of an "Ashes".

As a teenager being absolutely numbed by the grandiosity of "A Song for All Seasons" so long ago, I could never have imagined that Renaissance, in any form, would be not only performing their classics but reinvigorating them almost a half century later, to be appreciated by live audiences and people in their living rooms. Wasn't pop music supposed to be ephemeral. Wait what? Oh yeah, this is RENAISSANCE.

Report this review (#2505989)
Posted Sunday, February 14, 2021 | Review Permalink

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